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Opinion by Bill Crasper

Forest Conditions in Wyoming by: Bill Crapser and Dan Jiron

Management and restoration of our forests and grasslands benefit Wyoming communities, ranchers, loggers and others whose jobs are directly or indirectly related to public lands. With restoration focus and efforts, Wyoming’s communities are safer, and our beautiful forests, grasslands, rivers and streams are more resilient to challenging conditions like drought, beetles and wildfires.

As challenging conditions cross landscapes, we are grateful for our agencies’ collaboration with the Fire Service, Conservation Districts, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), private landowners, elected officials and other state and federal agencies. These partnerships help us get more work done on the ground and are especially crucial when we face wildland fires.

As you know, 2012 brought severe drought conditions and lightning resulting in wildland fire activity the state had not experienced for many years. Regardless of land ownership, nearly everyone in Wyoming felt the impact of wildland fires. 

Facts are sobering. Mountain pine beetle and spruce beetle have eaten their way through one third of Wyoming forests. The 2012 aerial survey results detailing the spread of the two beetles can be found on the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region website at fs.usda.gov/r2.

Last year, more than 1,300 fires burned 75 structures and more than 600,000 acres, or about half a million acres more than Wyoming’s average. Firefighting agencies spent $110 million and more than 4,000 firefighters fought these fires. 

So, what are we doing to face these challenges? We are aggressively moving forward on projects and initiatives to meet the goal of healthy forests and grasslands. 

To meet the bark beetle challenge, the state, counties and Forest Service are making restoration efforts a priority and working together to address outbreaks. The Forest Service recently awarded a 10-year stewardship contract on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. This project adds to the many short-term projects to restore our national forests and grasslands. The Wyoming Legislature targeted funds to treat mountain pine beetle infestation in the Black Hills. Wyoming State Forestry is working closely with the Forest Service, industry, conservation districts, Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s Weed and Pest Program and other state agencies in an attempt to slow the spread of mountain pine and spruce beetle on all lands. 

The forest product industry is gaining strength and infrastructure as seen at Thompson Logging Company in Encampment, Bighorn Lumber Company in Laramie and Saratoga Forest Management in Saratoga. The state of Wyoming and the Forest Service are working closely with industry so that all types of forest products have somewhere to be milled into lumber, processed into pellets or generated into electricity.

We are very thankful that with all the wildland fires last year, no serious injuries occurred in Wyoming. We continue to stress firefighter and community safety as our top priority. The busy fire season provides us the opportunity to host several media interviews and to air public service announcements to remind people of the extreme fire danger and importance of local fire restrictions.

To prepare for this fire season, the Wyoming State Forestry Division, Wyoming Fire Academy and the Forest Service have an aggressive training schedule. Last year, Wyoming State Forestry trained more than 2,500 students and issued 2,213 red cards (certifications for fire positions).

The Forest Service has an integrated, nationwide wildland firefighting system with ready access to 15,300 dedicated firefighting professionals and countless other certified individuals that can be called when needed. This system affords interagency access to firefighting crews, fire engines, helicopters, air tankers, equipment and fire cache and coordination systems. In the Rocky Mountain Region alone, which includes Wyoming, the Forest Service hosts 670 dedicated firefighting professionals and approximately 1,700 additional red carded or wildland fire certified employees. 

Wyoming State Helitack, which operates under the Wyoming State Forestry Division and partners with Wyoming Counties, BLM and Forest Service, continues to be a tremendous asset to fighting wildfires and responding to emergency incidents. 

These are just a few of our initiatives and projects, but the bottom line is that we are committed to accelerating the pace of restoration of Wyoming’s forests and grasslands. Working with all our partners from landowners, government entities, fire districts and our elected officials will allow for greater progress to be made on our forests and grasslands. 

Our continued collaboration will ensure that forests and grasslands are becoming more resilient, timber companies and ranchers are economically viable, and communities are best prepared for what could be another tough wildfire season.